Power to the Players

Full disclosure: I’m a huge nerd. I used to be really ashamed of it in middle school & high school, and pretended I didn’t play videogames all the time and wait in line for the midnight release of Star Wars: Episode III. Then I cut my hair, got contacts, started socializing and going to the gym, and I realized that I could still be a nerd and have a life at the same time. It was quite the epiphany. In fact, I even realized that plenty of fine ladies are just as nerdy as I was (and some even play videogames too!). Now I proudly proclaim my love for videogames, movie & videogame soundtracks, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Batman without fear of persecution. Yeah, I paid $25 to watch nine hours of Christopher Nolan Batman perfection for The Dark Knight Rises premiere. What of it? In fact, my recent Star Wars: The Old Republic guild leadership probably helped me get a bunch of social media interviews. Say what you will Ogre…

There are still some aspects of my nerditude that I’m a little sheepish about putting out there. Not that I read Star Wars fan fiction or run a Star Wars: The Old Republic guild called The Nerf Herders or anything. Psh…who does that? Anyyyyyway, I went on another totally hetero lunch date with my pal Kenny today. This time at Quiznos, my old stomping grounds (Toastmaster, Quiznos University Class of 2005).  He had a luxurious one hour lunch break so we hit up GameStop afterwards to nerd out for a little bit. I’ve had a long list of videogames on my “to play” and “still to finish” lists. I still have to finish Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, The Ballad of Gay Tony GTA:IV DLC, Forza III, Halo 3: ODST (still never finished the campaign), The Force Unleashed and the first Mass Effect. He also reminded me that Tribes: Ascend, a sequel in one of my favorite PC series, Starsiege, was now completely free to play on Steam. So I’m also in the process of downloading that.

My issue is that I’m both a completionist and an Xbox 360 achievement hound, so starting a new game is a huge undertaking. For instance, I try to beat every Rockstar game to 100%, which I’ve been able to do with GTA: Vice City and Red Dead Redemption (one of the greatest games I have ever played). When I first heard that BioWare (makers of my favorite Star Wars games, Knights of the Old Republic I & II) was starting a new RPG series called Mass Effect, I was super excited and I made sure it was one of my first 360 purchases. However, I was so compelled to finish everything and get every achievement that the game started to really drag as I got bogged down exploring every planet for new missions. Because of that I never ended up finishing it, but from what I heard they really stripped down and refocused in Mass Effect 2.

There are also a bunch of games on my to play list. Halo Anniversary, The Force Unleashed II, L.A. Noire, Max Payne 3, SkyrimAssassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood, Revelations and eventually AC3 when it comes out later this year. I loved the first Assassin’s Creed and even as a completionist, the open world was manageable enough to finish most of the game and it’s achievements. Needless to say I’m ready to jump into the rest of that series head first. Every time I see commercials for AC3 I typically stare wide-eyed, mouth open, with drool dripping from the corner. However the one game on the top of my “to play” list has been Fallout 3, an open world FPS RPG which won Game of the Year in 2008. From what I’ve heard it’s right up my alley, but I just haven’t had the time to undertake such an epic game, plus my life had been pretty much been dictated by SWTOR until recently.

The best thing about GameStop is their huge collection of used games, and since most 360 games are $60 when they’re first released, buying pre-owned is a great deal. After browsing through the used games bin I came across Fallout 3 for $10, which obviously I jumped at. But then, after checking out I saw that they buy used Apple products. Since I’ve had my barely functioning, 30 GB iPod click wheel sitting in my car’s center console for two years I figured why not get some cash for it. After determining that it actually turned on, the kid said he could give me $26 store credit for it, which I wished I knew before I bought Fallout 3. But he said he could easily refund the money to my debit card and apply the credit. He also said that he had the Fallout 3 Game of the Year Edition complete with all DLC, new for $20. I couldn’t turn that down, so I applied the store credit and still have $6 left over. Considering buying a Batman shirt to wear to TDKR premiere. Clearly the best use of the remaining store credit. Either way, this was quite a fortuitous visit to GameStop. Power to the players indeed.

Now I’ve heard some rumors about the next generation Xbox, which right now is still called Xbox 720 (not really a fan of that name but I guess the ad wizards at Microsoft know better than me), and that they might include a means to block players from using pre-owned games. This would really kill companies like Gamefly and doom Blockbuster’s videogame rentals (which has to be the only reason anyone would still visit a Blockbuster). Plus, it would take away one of the most redeeming factors of GameStop, trade-ins and buying used games. If Microsoft actually does that with the 720, today’s wonderful experience could never happen for their next gen console. Maybe Microsoft plans to corner the market on used games, and only allow for games to be rented through Xbox Live, which would be really smart for them, but also a total dick move. And since I know that a lot of Microsoft bigwigs clearly read this blog on the reg, I have a message for them: Come on bro, don’t be like that. Also your Microsoft Points system is awful. Get rid of it.

Anywho, I’m about to mow the lawn then rip into Fallout 3 like an eight year old on Christmas morning. Coug out.

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The Greatest App You Aren’t Using

My apologies for no blog post yesterday. The Coug was out and about in the big city. Anywhosits, this post is going to be for some of the less tech/app-savvy readers, since if you own a smart phone and love apps, you better already have this installed (if you don’t, what are you doing with your life?). For the rest of you, there is an app out there that is probably the greatest app you aren’t using. No Kevin Durant, I’m not talking about Doodle Jump…

Man, that’s messed up.

I’m talking about foursquare (have you checked into this post yet?). Founded in 2009, foursquare revolutionized the idea of mobile “check-ins.” Originally, the app was designed for you to check into various venues around town to earn badges, mayorships, and to allow your broskis to see where you were at in the hopes that they might meet up with you/stalk your every move. But since it’s evolution to the newest re-design, released earlier this month, the app has become much more than simply a way to over share. 

Before foursquare most people relied on Zagat or Yelp! to find reviews of new restaurants and businesses. But now, with v5.0 of foursquare you can find reviews of venues regardless of whether they’re right in your backyard or in a strange far off land. And while it works great for restaurants, users can leave reviews anywhere, from bars, to dry cleaners, to art museums, to dentist offices, to strip clubs. With the new “Explore” feature, the app will give you recommendations of places nearby based on your check-in history or what you’ve added to your to-do list. For instance, I used foursquare last week to find The Garden Gourmet right in my own backyard. It, like thousands of venues on foursquare, had two awesome “specials” that are linked to your check-ins. One being the “Friends Special,” which is unlocked by checking in for lunch or dinner with a total of three people in order to get free desserts (awesome!), and the other being a free coffee refill every time you check in there (not as awesome…). But come on, who doesn’t love getting free stuff for doing basically nothing? What’s also great about the “check-in specials” is that if you link your American Express card to your foursquare account, you unlock even more awesome deals. During American Express Small Business Saturdays, almost every small business on foursquare has deals from Amex. All it takes is a check-in, and upon seeing how much you spent on your next statement, Amex will refund a portion of your bill just for checking into a small business. Dopeness.

While that’s an awesome example of finding a great place in my own town, I also just used foursquare to find a place to wet my whistle after a job interview in NYC yesterday. I was over on West 13th Street and simply searched “bar” in the explore tab to find The Brass Monkey on Little West 12th Street. Just from reading some reviews from Bravo, I learned that it was pretty inexpensive, had a rooftop bar, and had an awesome happy hour. So thanks to foursquare I was able to find a bar with an awesome happy hour where I could catch the end of the Spain – Portugal match with some crazy fútbol fans. All of this in an area I knew nothing about.

In addition to finding great places and checking in with your pals, foursquare, like a lot of check-in based apps nowadays, has incentives for checking in at both new places and your regular haunts. You can become the “Mayor” of a venue by checking in the most times over a period of sixty days. Additionally you can usurp the mayorship in a bloodless coup by checking in more times than the current mayor. Often times, if the place is cool enough, it’ll have special deals for the mayor, like free appetizers or drinks, or even a certain percentage off the total purchase. This is a great way to reward customer loyalty.

But what if you’re a fearless explorer? What if you love finding new and exciting places every time you’re out? Don’t fear, the folks at foursquare have you covered. An equally, if not more rewarding aspect of foursquare is unlocking badges. Badges cover a wide array of topics, from checking into 100 different venues, to holding down ten mayorships at once, to sponsored badges like the Starbucks Barista Badge, which you can get from checking into enough unique Starbucks locations. You can also unlock varying levels of badges like the Pizzaiolo badge. You unlock level one by checking into three different pizza joints, level two after five different pizza joints, level three after ten and so on. Some of the badges are easy to unlock and some are much more obscure, with foursquare adding their own unique brand of tongue-in-cheek humor to each one. Yesterday, I earned the “Bravo Newbie” badge by checking into the High Line Park, which was on Bravo’s NYC Must-Visit List on their foursquare. It was also on my foursquare to-do list so…double win.

Plus this was my view, so…triple win.

While it’s nice that foursquare added these cool extra incentives, the point is to actually get out and visit new places. Do new things. In addition to badges and mayorships, there’s also a weekly points leaderboard. Each check-in awards you with a certain number of points based on if you’re the mayor, if it’s your first time there, the venue category, and if you’re checking in with a bunch of friends. What I’ve noticed is that a lot of people are using foursquare for the completely wrong reasons. Even though the weekly leaderboard is absolutely pointless (and actually kind of hard to navigate to), it seems to be the only thing most casual users care about. I see my foursquare friends checking into ridiculous locations like intersections, parking lots, stop lights, and interstates just to bump their weekly points totals. I’ve brought this up with them and their argument is, “If there’s a venue for it, why shouldn’t I check in?” Because you’re not going anywhere new! There’s nothing interesting about checking into a freaking highway! If all you care about is being atop a leaderboard, go buy an Xbox and Modern Warfare and have at it. I’ve actually been unfollowing people on foursquare because I was tired of their inane check-ins cluttering up my feed. In the recent re-design, foursquare made it so your Friends tab displays more like a Facebook news feed, instead of just the most recent check-ins, which I like a lot better, but it made it so annoying check-ins such as those dominate your foursquare feed. To anyone who uses foursquare like that (you know who you are): You’re doing it wrong!

I was recently appointed a foursquare SuperUser, which may be the closest I’ll ever come to actually working for them (still waiting on that Community Support application I sent in dudes!), but it was probably the culmination of my social media existence so far (well, maybe my twitter appearance on Baseball Tonight). It might also be the happiest moment of my OCD lifestyle, since I would often refuse to check into venues that were uncategorized/mis-categorized or had no address. Now, if I want to check into a venue that looks like someone created it while tripping on bath salts, I can open up the foursquare SuperUser app, “Hopscotch” (ha!), search for the wonky venue, and edit it to my heart’s content! If you’re friends with me on foursquare and noticed that all your check-ins are magically fixed with correct categories and information, yup that was Coug. But if you see a venue that you want me to fix for you, I’d be happy to do so. With great power comes great responsibility. I am sworn to uphold the integrity of foursquare support personnel, and have vowed never to use this for evil!

So yeah, if you have a smartphone (even a BlackBerry!) and you love app culture, you have to be using this app. Even if you aren’t an app-fiend like me and you love discovering new places, you should give foursquare a try. Also, if you’re still relying on Yelp! for business and restaurant reviews, you have to make the switch to foursquare. The design is so much cleaner and free of clutter. I would go so far as to say that foursquare is a beautiful app. And if your hang up is not wanting people to know where you are, simply don’t share your check-ins on Twitter or Facebook. Plus, unless someone is actually friends with you on foursquare, they can’t see any of your check-ins or location information. Hey who knows, maybe you’ll get to usurp someone’s mayorship in glorious fashion. Happy check-ins! Oh and friend me up on foursquare!